Industrial facilities have more to gain from ‘building green’ than those in any other sector, writes ANDREW AITKEN from the Green Building Council of Australia.
Industrial buildings can be heavy-duty users of energy, resources and land, operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year and containing hundreds, sometimes thousands, of employees performing repetitive tasks under often unpleasant conditions. In some cases, the equipment in these facilities consumes vast amounts of water and energy, generates tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions and emits noxious fumes.
Despite the potential to increase operating efficiencies, cut costs and reduce their environmental footprint, not to mention reduce worker injuries and boost employee satisfaction and performance, the industrial sector has been slow to grasp the opportunities of Green Star.
Of the 320-plus Green Star-rated projects (across all Green Star rating tools), just one is an industrial facility. And while 14 projects are registered to achieve Green Star – Industrial ratings, Lot 12 TradeCoast Central (pictured right) remains a solitary green industrial landmark.
INDUSTRY FALLING BEHIND
This is not just an Australian problem. Just one percent of all buildings rated under the US Green Building Council’s LEED green building rating system are industrial projects.
Australia’s industrial processes accounted for 31.1 million tonnes of carbon dioxide in 2008. While that’s only 5.4 percent of the total, it’s still equivalent to the annual greenhouse gas emissions from more than six million passenger vehicles. And don’t forget, that’s before the industrial buildings themselves are considered; commercial buildings are responsible for around 10 percent of our greenhouse gas emissions.
To a large extent, the industrial market is still about tin sheds on concrete slabs. While business owners may recognise the impact their industrial process itself has on the environment, they rarely consider the effect of the building. In not doing so, they are missing out on a massive opportunity.
Construction costs on average represent only 11 per cent of the total cost to build, operate and maintain a facility over a typical 40-year lifecycle. Yet decisions made in the construction phase, often based on the lowest bid, can significantly increase operating costs over the life of the building.
Minimal increases in upfront costs of about two percent to support green design result in life cycle savings of, on average, 20 percent of total construction costs – more than 10 times the initial investment, according to a report from California’s Sustainable Building Task Force.
Industrial facilities often use vast quantities of water – but industrial facilities that are not water-based tend to have few features to reduce water consumption. By introducing simple solutions to reduce reliance on mains water, non-potable water can be used for landscape irrigation, toilet and urinal flushing, custodial purposes and building systems. These measures can save thousands of dollars per year, resulting in rapid payback on water conservation infrastructure.
LEADING THE PACK
At Brisbane’s Eagle Farm, the Green Star-rated Lot 12 TradeCoast Central has integrated a range of water-wise measures. Smart fittings and fixtures include the ‘Showerguard’ system, which restricts the flow of hot water and has the potential to save many thousands of litres of water every year when compared to non-efficient showerheads. The combined benefits of less wastewater and reduced power required to heat the water leads to a lessened environmental impact.
The project has also invested in a shared precinct non-potable water storage and distribution system, which gained them a Green Star innovation point for environmental design initiatives. The system reduces potable water consumption by 80 percent – the equivalent of more than 10,000 litres a day – and the only potable water used within the precinct is for kitchens, showers and hand basins. Non-potable water is sourced from local council water treatment plants, which guarantee a weekly supply of 2800 kilolitres.
The human capital benefits of Green Star-rated industrial facilities can be even more spectacular. A raft of international research confirms that comfortable, well lit facilities promote alertness and motivation.
Brisbane City Council used the Green Star – Industrial tool to inform the sustainability initiatives of its Willawong Bus Depot. The results were so startling that they’ve decided to register two subsequent bus depot projects for Green Star – Industrial ratings.
The Council anticipated that a well ventilated workplace with natural light would lead to better productivity. What the Brisbane City Council didn’t anticipate was the impact that daylit facilities would have on lost time due to injury. Better access to natural light and task lighting means people can see more clearly and move around their workplace more safely.
So, why aren’t more industrial facilities going up green? Cost is certainly still an issue. The scale of these buildings makes them expensive and owners of industrial facilities often don’t want to invest additional capital to achieve a Green Star rating.
However, it is worth noting that Green Star certification is not always the best early indicator of market shift. The Green Star – Industrial tool is downloaded around 1500 times each year – a sign that the industry is using it.
It’s also important that owners of industrial facilities understand that the extra invested capital can realise great returns.
In the office market today, developers often assess the return on investment for each Green Star credit; this enables them to make a sound financial decision on their Green Star ratings. We encourage developers of industrial facilities to take the same approach.
Andrew Aitken is the Green Star executive director at the Green Building Council of Australia (GBCA).